Reality Check: Experiments in Encouragement

How do we learn? One effective method involves coming up with an idea and then trying an experiment to see whether the idea works as we think it will. Observe what happens, and then draw a conclusion based on what we see. Did the idea work as expected? Or not? Either way, we have learned something.

We spend a good part of our lives offering information to people. Sometimes, we have the chance to express positive and encouraging sentiments. Other times, there’s the need to indicate a problem, a challenge, or an outcome that didn’t meet expectations.

In the inquiring spirit of experimentation, then, here’s a question.  Which type of information connects with the most effective change in behaviour: encouraging information that recognizes achievements? Or corrective information that points out mistakes?

Some folks seem to believe that people need to be corrected, sometimes in a rather harsh way, or they will never learn. I wonder if that’s true?

So here’s the experiment. When you feel yourself about to offer a critical remark to someone, pause for a moment. Turn it around. Look for one small thing that you can encourage instead of criticize, and say that instead.

For example, your daughter Caroline is industriously working on a poster. It’s her original design, and she is clearly proud of her work so far. She asks, “What do you think?”  You love the design, but there is ink smudged in the corner. What might you say?

“Caroline, you smudged the ink all over the corner. But, the design is outstanding.”

Or, “Caroline, you’ve created an outstanding design. What is your plan for the corner?”

Those two responses contain much the same information. Do they send different messages?

The first message personalizes the criticism. “Caroline, you smudged the ink all over the corner.” It can leave no doubt in Caroline’s mind that she has done something wrong, and that in your view, it is her fault. Your recognition of the quality of the design seems like an afterthought.

The second message personalizes the encouragement: “Caroline, you’ve created an outstanding design.” It can leave no doubt in Caroline’s mind that in your view, she has done something worthy of praise. Your question about the corner indicates trust—your trust that Caroline has recognized and is able to repair the damage caused by the smudge.

Do you believe that choosing encouragement is an effective way to offer information? No need to take my word for it. The Reality Therapy approach supports self-evaluation. That is, give it a try, see what happens for yourself.

I’m not suggesting that you build someone up in a phony way. My suggestion is that when you see someone who has taken an action—even if it’s a very small thing—that is legitimately worth recognition, then recognize it! Encourage it. Praise it. Do so immediately and honestly.

So, try your own experiment. Offer positive recognition to someone who deserves it. Draw your own conclusion. Is it more satisfying to encourage? Or to point out faults?

Let me know

This entry was posted in Helping Others and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.